The Sporewood - Christopher M. Dailey

edited June 2018 in DesignFinder Chat

At the edge of civilization sits a forest of strange disposition. It is surrounded and permeated by a fog of chalky yellow spores that oppress the senses and warp the mind. Those who live near the forest give it a healthy distance. The brave few foolish enough to enter tell of a surreal landscape where fog distorts the sun’s rays into a jaundiced twilight. They speak of towering trees, not hard to the touch but spongy and soft. They speak of malicious silhouettes stalking furtively through twisted glades, of horse-sized insects, floating ruins, and distant pulses of sickly light. Few give these tales much credence for the fog twists minds, and inside their rambled descriptions lurks a tinge of madness. All the same, most give the forest wide berth.


The trees of the Sporewood are soft and porous. Their light composition allows them to reach impossible heights and support broad branches that shoot off at high angles. These branches combine and twist together, forming a thick canopy that covers the forest like a knotted blanket. From their surface seeps a sickening stream of spores that blend together to create a thick fog. The fog weighs heavily on all who enter, causing breath to come in dry, chalky rasps. It obscures vision and addles the mind, inducing a slow-building delerium that worsens with prolonged exposure.


Creatures of the forest mirror its bizarre nature. The hostile atmosphere wards off most animals but provides a dearth of competition that allows insects to thrive and grow to unprecedented size. Similarly the Sporewood lacks intelligent creatures save for a clan of feral halflings whose ancestors long ago adapted to the forest’s inhospitable environment. They are savage beings who adorn themselves in vicious masks and dance fitfully through the trees in service to their own bestial whims. For hospitality they offer only brutality, cunning, and violence.


The origins of the Sporewood are murky. Its unique nature has caused some to speculate that it arose unnaturally, a work of organic artifice by some unscrupulous agent. For now the mystery persists, but the forest contains clues to its own beginnings. Inside its deepest reaches some have spotted stone monoliths, ancient and unfamiliar in construction. The purpose of such structures can only be speculated but what is certain is that they are tied to the forest’s past and possibly to its future.


  • The Sporewood region receives ample description in wonderful detail. I really get a feel for the forest and its alien nature. Your present something for nearly all the senses (missing a strong component for smell) and make the forest come alive for GMs who take the opportunity to describe it. The forest contains a variety of threats, from the mind-warping environment itself to the oversized insects and the wild halflings inured to the forest’s deleterious effects. The forest itself presents a mystery in its origins, and the text does a good job of posing serval possibilities.

    The monoliths dotting the forest provide a clue to the forest’s origins. While they receive a fleeting mention in the text, one is presented on the accompanying map with no supporting text. Therefore, I have no idea how the map is supposed to work. I see the forest floor is 40 feet down, but how far does the monolith stretch? How high are the chains supporting the monolith? They’re rusted, so will they break with weight placed on them or the monolith? There’s nothing for a GM to grasp onto when running an encounter at this location.

    Your text is evocative, and I noticed no major grammatical errors. You could have lost some of the breathtaking description spent on the forest and used a paragraph to discuss the hanging monolith. I’m certain it would have been just as great as the rest of the text.

    Overall, the Sporewood is an impressive location, but, sadly, I can’t recommend this to advance because the Hanging Monolith presented as the adventure location has no description and leaves so many questions unanswered.

    I’m only one voice among many, though, and the voters may see something different, or have different criteria they use to make their determinations. Good luck in the voting!

  • edited June 2018

    The Sporewood is a fascinating location, a creepy forest that evokes all the senses to have PCs (and probably players too) doubelguessing everything they think they know. A GM could have a great time in this location creeping people out, making them jump at things they don't understand. I love the idea of the soft, porous trees. It's such a little change, but it perfectly evokes the strangeness of this entire location. I do wish it gave us more specifics about the Hanging Monolith in the map, as for the moment we're left simply to wonder about it.

    The map itself seems fine. It's clear what everything is, and I think there is room for players to make choices and for combat to take place. I'd have loved to see a few more tree tunnels, as I think that's an evocative idea and one that could be the centerpiece of an encounter, with PCs and enemies racing through the trees themselves in a running battle. The monolith itself is there, but doesn't indicate how high it's hanging or if the map lives up to what the monolith itself should be, since we don't really know anything more about it. Despite the frustration, I think this does meet the challenge presented, which says "The map should be appropriate for an encounter in that location; it may be the entire location or a small section of it." This is obviously set in the overall Sporewood location based on everything else in the map.

    I think the Sporewood is a great location that could fit in a standard fantasy campaign or really well in a more horror-tinged game. The map itself is solid and clear even if we don't know what the Hanging Monolith is, so I do recommend this for advancement.

  • Congratulations, Chris. Putting yourself out there to compete in anything is hard, and designing RPGs is hard. Particularly designing adventure settings or locations. You have to be able to suggest some ideas about personalities, plots, terrain, and more, and have GMs chomping at the bit to add your location to their regular game. Let's see how you did!

    I believe in positive feedback and honest criticism that should make you better at every part of this gig. So to start positively, I want to say thanks for a scary forest, descriptive prose, and a gorgeous map. Recently, I finished writing an adventure that features a certain Yellow King and the weird things that happen when you start trying to track him down. I also just started playing Magic again and fell in love with the Eldrazi (Lovecraft-inspired weird creatures imprisoned in mysterious monoliths on a hostile plane). Whatever your inspiration for the Sporewood, I'm feeling it.

    The thing is...I DON'T know your inspiration. I like that this adventure location feels weird and dangerous. I don't like that you didn't answer any questions. If I'm developing or publishing the Sporewood, I want to know what specific encounters and hazards are there. Was it grown by a mad alchemist? Cranky druids who despise all animal life? Is this the sort of alien forest we'd find outside Carcosa? So many entries this round hint at greatness then leave me to fill in the blanks, and I encourage you all to think big, answer questions, and give us plots and villains to work with.

    I might still recommend this, but I'm a little miffed you gave the monolith a passing reference, and then made it the centerpiece of the map. What's going on there? Is it trapped? Does the monolith have a mind? Is it coterminous with the prime ad therefore could take you to another plane?

    Good luck in voting. If you advance please answer the big questions.

  • I wanted to read and comment every entry before I gave a thumb' up or down recommendation. I am supporting FOUR entries to advance from this round based on map, adventure potential, and quality prose. And I do recommend this one to advance based on my comments above.
  • Congrats on the strong entry for round 2.
    I love the description of the Sporewood and the unique spin you took on a classic fantasy trope (that of a creepy, possibly haunted wood). The trees being this strange fungal plant is extremely evocative.
    I also think an encounter on your map would be a ton of fun, jumping from branch to branch as you battle halflings or giant bugs or work to stop whatever might be going on with the monolith (which I'm hoping we will get to see more explanation of in round 4).
    Good luck and I fully expect to see you in round 3. 
  • Good work on making it through Round 2.

    First, from the standpoint of how or how hard a publisher's cartographer might have to work to improve your envisioned map, it looks solid and clean and easy to understand.  I doubt they'd have to alter much beyond adding personal touches or flair.

    Second, from the standpoint of an exciting encounter location, I think this fits just fine. It's a high-elevation location (presumably it's intended to depict about 40 feet above the ground) with interesting and organic placing of branches, tree trunks for cover, and some trunk tunnels for movement as well as well-placed branches for moving between trees and gaps for jumping in some places. The hanging monolith is obviously a key interesting feature with rusty chains adding another element from hanging from or crossing to and from it.

    At its base, this map allows me to easily envision running a combat or encounter here, with enemies and PCs on multiple levels, where the map's clear layout makes it a breeze to have figurines on the ground for PCs who fall without having overwhelming instances of stacking into the same square because one guy is under another (except in the case of branches, but that can't always be helped).

    Long version 
    Not to jump too much on the monolith description bandwagon, but yes, we should know a bit more details of it. How it might react to attacks possibly, but definitely at least how long and tall the object is, so we know how far down it hangs from 40 feet (the apparent level of this map), so we know how how far off the ground the lower edge is. As it's called the Hanging Monolith I presume it doesn't touch.

    Other than that, I don't know what the light green patches represent, possibly just fungal or spore patches for forest-y design, which is fine. I wouldn't have minded if you had added an additional element by labeling those squares as spore or mold patches that 'went off' if a creature entered them, possibly creating a spore cloud in that space for a round or two with some hallucinogenic, delusional, or spatial perception effects on creatures failing a save in the cloud, to make combat in the branches more dangerous/interesting. That would have built on the forest's spore-like nature and reinforced it.
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